UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Since the halfway mark of the season, the Bruins have emphasized just how precious every point in the standings is to their chase for a playoff spot.
Last night, they managed to salvage one against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum in the front half of a home-and-home series that concludes tomorrow night at the FleetCenter.
With 1:57 remaining in the third period, left wing P.J. Axelsson took a feed from defenseman Jiri Slegr and beat goalie Rick DiPietro to pull into a 2-2 tie, sending it into overtime. And that's the way it stayed.
The Bruins are winless in three games (0-2-1) and have scored just five goals in that span. The Islanders are unbeaten in three (2-0-1).
One look at the ferocious battle going on in the Eastern Conference standings was enough motivation for both teams to want to find a way to carve out a victory. The Bruins, particularly in the last two losses, have struggled with their starts and had a difficult time finding the back of the net. They got a boost last night when captain Joe Thornton returned to the lineup after missing three games with a fractured right cheekbone.
Thornton, who wore a cage to protect his face, earned an assist on Boston's first goal.
"He looked to me like he really didn't miss a beat," said coach Mike Sullivan. "For having some time off, I thought he had a pretty solid game for us."
Thornton said he was tested physically a couple of times but fared well.
"It was fine," he said. "[The cage] kind of saved my face from the two high sticks so I was kind of lucky I had it tonight."
The Islanders got on the scoreboard first. At 5:56 of the opening period, rookie right wing Trent Hunter potted his first of two. Hunter leads all rookies in goals with 18 and leads the Islanders in scoring with 34 points.
He teed up a slapper from the far side of the left circle that glanced off the left pad and then the glove of goalie Felix Potvin before trickling inside the right post.
That lead lasted a little more than two minutes. Glen Murray pulled the Bruins even at 8:03 on a rebound shot from the left circle, giving him his 15th goal and extending his point streak to three games with two goals and one assist.
The Islanders retook the lead at 17:21 on Hunter's second. Center Shawn Bates took the initial shot on Potvin, a backhander, but the rebound bounced to Hunter, who fired it in to make it 2-1.
In the second, the Bruins had all kinds of opportunities to make up ground, but were thwarted at every turn by DiPietro. DiPietro, a strong puck-handler, at times served as an extra defenseman, moving the puck up to his teammates and making forechecking tough for the Bruins.
In the middle period, Boston outshot the Islanders, 14-7, but DiPietro stopped them all.
One of the Bruins' better scoring chances came with just more than 12 minutes remaining when right wing Carl Corazzini tried a wraparound near the left post, but DiPietro managed to keep it out.
The Islanders nearly added a third goal with 7:34 left in the game when center Dave Scatchard was set up by Bates during a two-on-one. Bates, in the right circle, relayed the puck over to Scatchard in the slot but his hard shot rocketed off the pad of Potvin.
With six minutes remaining, Murray got a scoring chance from the slot, but DiPietro turned it away.
Axelsson's late goal, though, saved the day and the point.
"It was a tight defensive game out there," said Axelsson. "This time of the year, it usually is. Obviously we wanted a better start -- again -- but we came back hard and played a good last 40 minutes."